The Soul Canal

“YEOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Dang dude, that hurt. What did you do?”

The dentist look back at me in disbelief. He said “You have a massive cavity there. I must have hit the nerve. You obviously need a root canal.”

“A root canal?” I thought. “How come I didn’t feel any pain before the torture master hooked me up?” The dentist seemd to sense what I was thinking and answered my question before I could ask it: “The reason you probably didn’t feel it is because your gum had grown into the cavity. Your nerve was never exposed to the air and irritants in your mouth so you couldn’t do anything about it.”

And that was my introduction to the wonderful world of root canals. It wasn’t pleasant or fun. But it was necessary so that there could be something salvaged of my tooth.

That was over twenty years ago. My teeth haven’t improved much. I must have inherited someone’s bad teeth. Being diabetic doesn’t help either. One may say safely that I am intimately aware of the process involved in root canals. I’ve even had a soul canal too.

A soul canal is similar to what needs to be done when we sin.  When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow.

Now the first thing I need to address is the fact that Christians do indeed sin. With all due respect to Mr. Wesley, we are not perfected in this life. Our perfection awaits us in the life to come. Since we are still imperfect individuals we can expect to sin and mess up. This isn’t ideal of course, but it is true. And it is reality. If you need proof that Christians sin, hang out with me for a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but I;m not going to hide from it either.

So what do we do when we sin? 

“If we confess our sins, He is righteous and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB

When, not if, but WHEN we sin we need to confess them. This word confess is important to understand because we could easily misinterpret it if we are not careful. The Greek word translated confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo basically means to “say the same thing.” SO when we sin, we confess. But confession is not something we necessarily do in front of another person. No, if I understand homolegeo correctly, we name our sins the same way that God names them: they’re sins! They are not mistakes, blunders, poor judgments, etc. We don’t make excuses for them, we see them the same way that God sees them. When we do this we are indeed connected with God in a very deep way. 

“He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God.

God condemns thy sins: if thou dost also condemn them, thou

art linked with God.”      –Augustine

When we confess – when we name sin the same way God does – we demonstrate our linkage with God. We do not hide our sin or excuse it away. We name it sin, rely on God to cleanse us and then move on. Think about how our lives would be transformed if we just internalized this truth. God will cleanse us. God isn’t waiting to club us with His hammer or hit us with a lightening bolt when we sin. No, He is waiting for us to recognize our sin the same way He does. Once we do this, He cleanses us.

When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow. Believer me, I know. Eventually that sin will grow and grow until God has no other choice but to perform a Soul Canal on us, just like I needed a root canal because of ignoring pain in my teeth. When God performs a Soul Canal on us, we can expect it to be less pleasant that the root canal a dentist performs. But is is more than necessary.

So how are you doing recognizing sin in your life? Do you even recognize it? If not, you need to do a little inventory into what you believe.

If you do recognize it, do you make excuses? Do you simply name it sin, agree with God that you did it and was wrong, and have Him cleanse you? I hope you recognize it, name it, and get cleansed from it. That is the best way to avoid the soul canal.

 

Serenity Now!

SERENITY NOW!

SERENITY NOW!

For fans of the show Seinfeld, do you remember this episode? For those who never watched Seinfeld, well, “Serenity now” sounds a little dumb. This is another Seinfeld moment that one must witness to understand fully. But I’ll try to explain it anyway.

A new craze has hit the Seinfeld cast: whenever one is stressed, all one must do is say “Serenity Now!” and all the stress will melt away. A subplot throughout this episode is George’s successful nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who had been the advisor to the mayor of New York, has just been released from an psychiatric institution. All through the episode Kramer is busily trying to make sure Lloyd feels like he is completely sane regardless of the event that is happening. But back to “Serenity Now!”

Through this episode, Kramer and Frank (George’s dad) keep saying “Serenity Now” whenever they get a little over-stressed with a situation. Kramer explains that he has learned this coping technique and finds it to be a wonderful tool. As the episode continues, Lloyd and George team up to sell computers from the garage of Frank Costanza, George’s dad. Predictably Lloyd is completely outperforming George. Well this little fact prompts George to hatch a plan. He’ll hide the computers in Kramer’s apartment, say they’re all sold, claim victory after the competition is over, and then sell them later. Foolproof, right? What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

As it turns out, all that is achieved by saying “Serenity Now!” when stressed is a bottling up of the stress which leads to a major explosion. George learns this fact from one Lloyd Braun who tells him that the reason he (Lloyd) ended in a psychiatric hospital was because of “Serenity Now”. He told George “Serenity now, insanity later”.

George rushes to Kramer’s apartment after the competition ends and finds Kramer flipping out. We hear the sound of glass breaking, things crashing to the floor, all while Kramer repeatably yells “SE-REN-IT-TY NOOWWWWW!” The scene ends with George learning that Kramer just destroyed all the computers George was hiding in Kramer’s apartment. It was great. But I guess you just have to see it to appreciate it. So to refresh your memory or just for the first time, here are the highlights from “Serenity Now!”

 

SERENITY NOW!

So where did Lloyd, Frank, and Kramer go wrong? Is it wrong to seek serenity when times get tough? Well, no it isn’t. But the WAY they sought serenity in the difficult times was wrong. They thought through their effort they could find the peace they needed. But in the end, the serenity they sought eluded them and their situation was worse at the end than at the beginning. Before we judge too harshly, don’t we do similar things? Don’t we sometimes run from the very One we need to run to – to depend on – for our peace of mind and serenity? If we’re honest, we must answer “yes” to that question.

Jesus said “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB

How often do we actually go to Jesus? Yeah, I know, this is mostly about repenting and turning to Him in our salvation. But do you notice the on-going effects here?

His yoke is now my yoke

This means that the yoke that Jesus places on us – His teachings and restrictions – are not as burdensome as the ones we leave behind. This is an on-going condition too. Whatever we face in this life, we’re having it placed on us by Jesus Christ who is, of course, God. So if I am to be burdened, why not have the ones that have their root in the all-knowing, all-loving, all-sufficient God of the universe?

Learn from Jesus

So now this comes into sharper focus. Jesus is talking about discipleship here. He is the One who is teaching me. That is why His yoke is on me and I am tied to Him. He is teaching me all I need to know. Maybe (probably) I won’t know everything that I could know, but I will know everything I need to know. And who better than Jesus to teach me. So are you – and me – being taught by Christ?

Jesus is gentle and humble

Do I really need to explain this? Both genuine gentleness and humility are self-evident. Jesus is the definition of both these traits. As His disciple, I should take on these traits at some point. If you are His, you should too. Are you becoming increasingly gentle? How is your humility? What about those who are your Pastors? Are they gentle and humble? Or are they overbearing, arrogant, and harsh? Take a look at not only the leaders of your local church but those in general authority regarding Christian things. How do they measure on the gentle-meter?

Rest is in Him

Rest. That is one thing we don’t seem to get enough of these days. But it is exactly what Jesus promises us. If we come to Him, strap His yoke on, we will find rest for our souls. How good is that!

His yoke is easy

This refers to how well the yoke fit the oxen or other animal it was on. Jesus is saying He customizes the yoke He places on us so that it fit us well. This is a far cry from the one-size fits all mentality of Israel’s leaders at the time…and some leaders around today. Each of us have a highly-customized and individualized encounter with Jesus. I am not saying that we all get saved in different ways. No, we are all discipled and trained in a way that fits us, not the masses. So Jesus IS concerned with us as individuals with various personalities and differences. He is not looking to treat us all the same…but He does treat us equally.

SERENITY NOW!

So, where are you and your dependence? Are you, like Frank and Kramer, relying on “SERENITY NOW!!” to give you rest and peace from the daily struggles of life? Are you trying to get stress-free through a psychological trick or by denying there is stress in your life? None of the tricks will work. Denying stress won’t work. Heck, even getting out and performing works of righteousness won’t grant you peace or serenity.

Only Jesus can bring you the peace that defies explanation. Only Jesus can give you rest for your soul. If you haven’t come to Him to save you, won’t you do that today? Find peace and rest – Serenity – for your soul…find that He is concerned for you and your well-being.

If you already belong to Him but have been distracted by the stresses of life, stop and spend some time with your Savior. If you have some sin in your life, admit it and move on. Jesus isn’t about to shame His own when they come to Him in sincere repentance. You are never alone in this life. I don’t care if you’re married or not married. You are never alone because God is always with you. Getting weary is part of being human. We complicate things by trying to be busy “about the Lord’s work” 24/7. When we do this and don’t take time to simply experience the presence of Christ, we cheat ourselves and grow more weary by the moment.

If you are weary…if you are weighed down by the rules and regulations someone else has placed on you…come to Christ and find relief. Find peace. Find rest. And find serenity.

And find that serenity now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which Way?

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

“Which way do I go?” I asked myself. I was in a pickle. I, with some fellow Marines, had decided to drive around the Memphis, TN area. We didn’t know where we were or where we were going. It was all fine until the fog rolled in. And then we found ourselves on a street with no name. We didn’t have a map anyway and this was long before smart phones and GPS. We came to a “T” in the road. It was spooky. Imagine this: fog rolling over an unfamiliar piece of road around 11 pm. Four Marines in a Mercury Capri with a case of beer. Not the best circumstance in the world!

“So, Alvarez, which way do I turn?” I inquired.

“I dunno” he answered.

So without a clue I turned left. The fog got worse and our paranoia grew. Complicating matters was the Ozzy Osbourne blaring over my cassette deck. These were my pre-Christian days, just in case you were wondering. We began down this road and stopped just a few hundred yards down. At this point Alvarez chimed in with this wonderful question :”What would you do if a vampire appeared in the road in front of us?”

“I’d run over him” I answered.

Sandoval, another Marine in my car, then asked “What if he got up after that?”

Dead. Silence.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out which way we should go in our path of life the same way I did all those many years ago on a back road in Memphis. Just guess and hope there aren’t any vampires coming around. But we don’t have to settle for guessing about what we should do next or the path we should trod. We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit in us. Add to that the fact that we can approach the Creator of the Universe with our questions and have confidence that He will answer them and, well, we don’t have to worry about vampires or foggy roads, or even that Ozzy Osbourne spooky music!

Every day we need to further develop our sense of discernment. Before we can do that though, we need to understand what it means.

John MacArthur defines discernment as “…nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. In other words, the ability to think with discernment is synonymous with an ability to think biblically.”

So discernment is basically making good decisions that honor God and glorify Him. But how do we, as fallen, imperfect, men (and women) achieve that goal. Hmm, that is a good question. Let’s cogitate on that for a few moments.

We begin to discern when we begin to examine everything carefully. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 we are told to examine everything and hold onto what is good. In the context  the specific thing that Paul is referring to is prophetic utterances. In Paul’s day (not unlike ours) there were folks claiming to be prophets of God everywhere. Paul is saying that when these utterances occur, don’t just take them at face value but look closely at them. Comparre them to the word of God to see if they are consistent with it.

O how we need that today! And this doesn’t just apply to prophecy. Have you ever heard something novel and new from a charismaic person? Before you jump at a “new” interpretation of any part of the Bible, examine it carefully. There isn’t a lot of field to plow theologically. Oh there are areas where folks disagree. But there isn’t much new. If you hear somehting you’ve never heard before about a particular verse or passage of Scripture be very careful. Investigate it further. Check out who said it. Does he/she have any training to make a statement like that? Be critical of the statement. If it is true, ir will stand the test. If not, it will fail to all except those who are blind to the truth. Put this effort in, after all, you need to be careful about your decision regarding this “new” way of thinking.

To discern what is right or wrong in doctrinal issues means you must know the Bible. This doesn’t mean you have to memorize it. But you must know it. Many men who can quote a verse here and there rarely really know the Bible. To know the Bible mens to study it each day like you’ve never studied it before. To know the Bible means to listen to what the word says to you. To study it means you decide that it is your teacher and Master…you’re not the master of it. To study the Bible means you place yourself under it rather than on top of it. You decide to change where the Bible and you disagree. This is absolutely necessary but is very difficult to do.

We all have biases. I have them just as much as anyone else. What I have learned to do is to try to set those biases aside and come to the Bible fresh each time I read it’s pages. This take practice and someone whom you trust to check you out, but is a worthwhile thing to do. A person who is a law and interpreter to himself, really doesn’t care what God says anyway. Don’t listen to such a man.

The result of this testing of everything, including our biases, is that we can be firmly entrenched in the essential doctrines of the faith and not tossed about as an unanchored ship in the stormy seas (Ephesians 4:14-16).

So, are you ready to work on your discernment? Are you ready to try to get better at making decisions. Practice looking closely at doctrines. Look at the WHOLE Bible not just a verse here or there. Make some decisions and then check yourself out with a person you trust…one who has been trained by others to properly interpret the Word of God. Read books and commentaries on whatever subject you are investigating. And by all means, pray for understanding. Pray that God wold give you a hearing heart. And then make some good decisions about what is right and what is wrong. About what is good and bad. About what is righteous and what is evil.

When you do this, you’ll be discerning correctly and not just guessing which way to go, or which way to think.

 

The Cardiac Kids

As I have progressed through this life God has given me, I have learned that the major battle we have with God – I mean THE major battle – is over control. We see the issue of obedience as being one of control and, to be fair, in some ways it is control. And we humans don’t like ceding control to anyone…including God.

 

Back in the 1970’s there was a football team in the US that earned the nickname “The Cardiac Cardinals”. Many of their games were close that went down to the final few moments before the Cardinals would win. They kept giving their fans heart attacks (metaphorically speaking), thus the “Cardiac” part of their nickname.

Sometimes I think we Christians should be referred to as the “Cardiac Kids”. A similar nickname for sure but for different reasons. The reason isn’t because we are “winning” at the last moment in life. No, the reason is much more important than that. We have a heart problem that shows itself, in varying degrees, in all Christians. This heart issue only betrays a deeper issue but is evidenced by our struggle with a simple, four-letter word. What is that word? O-B-E-Y. We have problems with obeying God with the right attitude. Shoot, we have problems with obeying God with ANY attitude.

Why do we have difficulty with the word “obey“? I’ve found out that if I want to get a reaction from people all I have to say is the word “obey”. We react to it. Some people even hate that word. So what is the big deal with being obedient? Why do we hate it so, so much.

Obedience is a big theme in the Old Testament. I remember one of my professors at Capital Bible Seminary, saying during one of my Old Testament classes, that God desired obedience greater than He desired sacrifice. The same is true in the New Testament. We see obedience to God taught from Matthew to Revelation. Why so much? Well, perhaps it is addressed so much because we humans have a problem with it. Our problem is not an easy one to solve because we see obedience as being dominated. When we obey, we sometimes think that we have been pushed around…dominated….lost control of our life. We see obedience so incorrectly.

Jesus taught that obedience is more about our heart than we think. Take a look at John 14:23-24 to have a snapshot of what Jesus thought about obedience:

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and

We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the

word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” John 14:23-24 NASB

Why did Jesus link keeping His words with love for Him? What is the connection between keeping His commands and loving Him? And is keeping His commands the same as obedience? Why does Jesus make this link? Let’s think about this for a moment and consider some examples from every day life and see if this will help us. Have you ever loved someone? I mean really loved someone with every fiber of your being?

I’ve been married now for 12 years. I love my wife. I mean I really, really love my wife. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. If she asks me to do anything, I’ll do it as quickly as possible. You know what? My wife feels the same way. We love each other. We demonstrate our love for one another by keeping each others desires and requests paramount. How could I do any less for God? Think about this for a moment.

Let’s say I tell my wife I love her. Now let’s say that my wife asks me to perform a reasonable act of service. it doesn’t matter what she asks. She asks me to do something for her. Now let’s say that I’m watching something on TV or reading a really good book. I turn to her and say “No, I don’t think I’ll do that for you. I have better things to do. Love ya babe!” Now, does my statement that I love her mean anything? No, they’re just words.

But let’s change this a little. Let’s say I respond “Geez honey, I just sat down and began to watch my game. Why didn’t you ask me to do that earlier?” I do what she asks me to do, but have I demonstrated my love for her? In all honesty, no. You see, robotic obedience, obedience with a bad attitude, or rejection of a request indicates a bad heart. I may say I love her but my actions betray a corrupt heart.

How is my heart condition with God? Do I obey with a poor attitude? Do I obey out of guilt? Do I obey out of an attempt to get God to accept me or like me? If I do, my obedience to God really means little. I should obey out of a heart that is thankful and one that has love for my God.

Obedience to God’s commands – whether those commands came through the burning bush, a prophet, Jesus, or an apostle – reflects my heart condition more than anything else. And my heart condition reflects my soul condition. So if my soul condition is ok and my heart condition is ok, my hands and feet will be ok too. In other words, if I am not battling God for Sovereignty (the Soul issue – authority) that will reflect itself in obedience (the Heart issue – control) and will work itself out through my hands and feet – that is, my work for the Lord will be the natural outworking of my vision of Him, and my  obedience to Him.

Obedience can be forced and many do force it. But that is just fake obedience because the heart and soul issues aren’t right. My heart needs to be right with God so that I can keep His words and obey Him with the right attitude.

So how is my heart? How is yours? Are we ready, wiling and able to obey what God wants us to do? With a good attitude? Or do we need to visit the Great Cardiologist and have some work done?

We all have issues with obedience. but hopefully, as we are progressively sanctified, those issues  become less and our heart becomes more His and less ours.   Then we’ll no longer be a Cardiac Kid!